Monday, October 19, 2015 4:52 pm
By Bola Bolawole.
Credible elections are a fulcrum of democracy. Without it, democracy cannot be said to be alive and well. The people must be allowed to freely choose their leaders; to retain, remove or replace them and to do this at their pleasure without any fear of a likely reprimand from any quarters. Free and fair election is like the blood that runs in the human arteries; without it, the body is dead. It can also be likened to the oil that lubricates the engine of a vehicle; without it, the engine will “knock”, as they say. Therefore, the absence of credible elections has led to the collapse of governments through military coups and or popular uprisings. In Nigeria, for example, rigged elections and corruption have been two key reasons why previous democratic experiments have floundered. The military have stepped in on many occasions to send civilian governments packing after acrimonious elections and or the disturbance of the public peace that accompanied them. Since the Fourth Republic began in 1999, the ghost of rigged elections has returned to haunt the country; the 1999 and 2003 general elections especially were well noted to be less that credible. From 2011, however, the general consensus appears to be that elections have become less ludicrous in the country.
Credible elections start with the compilation of the electoral register. Once this is muddled up or rigged, it is bound to affect the general conduct and eventual output of the election. The central position of electoral officers in the whole exercise cannot also be over-emphasised. Once the umpires or referees are compromised, level-playing ground cannot to assured to all players. The shenanigans of gerrymandering; deliberate starving of “enemy” strongholds of election materials; releasing of sensitive information, documents, and materials to “favoured” candidates or political parties; to outright doctoring of election results and writing and announcing of totally fake results are all known to have been executed by compromised electoral officers acting in cahoots with political godfathers and or the party in power.
The role of the security agencies in the outcome of elections has of late assumed frightening dimensions. Whereas in the past it used to be the police that was the cynosure of all eyes and, ultimately, the culprit, in recent times, members of the armed forces and the secret service have been given central roles to play before, during, and after elections. This has led to allegations of deliberate militarisation of elections with the sole purpose of using the military to rig elections by the party in power. Then, of course, there are the courts, the so-called last hope of the common man, whose statutory role is to adjudicate in election disputes. It is an open secret, if it is still any secret at all, that even the courts and election tribunals have become part of the problem as “justice” is known to have been casually and randomly given to the highest bidder and or to the party in power.
The late President Musa Yar’Adua admitted openly that the 2007 election that brought him to office was tragically flawed and promised to institute reforms that would make future elections more credible. He started the process but death did not allow him conclude it; his successor, former President Goodluck Jonathan, however, took the process forward. Under Yar’Adua and Jonathan, we witnessed for the very first time the government in party accepting election verdicts that went against their own party in Edo, Anambra, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun and other states of the federation. We also witnessed a sitting president (Jonathan) appointing a credible INEC boss in the person of Pro. Attahiru Jega, allowing him organise credible elections with Jonathan ultimately losing the presidential election and accepting defeat and congratulating the winner ever before the results were officially announced. The actions of Yar’Adua and Jonathan from 2007 downwards not only helped to stabilize the polity but also strengthened the democratic culture taking roots. With APC now the party in power, the onus is on it to move the process forward.
To some, APC failed the very first test in this regard with the appointment of Madam Amina Zakari, a known acquaintance of President Muhammadu Buhari, as the new INEC boss.
It, however, behoves the woman – and Buhari – to give the lie to their critics. In addition to the preparation of credible electoral register; availability of voters’ cards; impartiality of INEC officials; even-handed application of electoral rules and regulations; and the sanctity of electoral materials and processes; there are two other fundamental issues that INEC must take care of for future elections to be seen as credible. The first is the functionality of the newly-introduced INEC screening\accreditation machines. The machines were an issue in the last election; they worked perfectly in some areas; worked haphazardly in others; and were absolute hindrance in many voting centres. Apart from lack of requisite technical expertise to handle the machines; there were also allegations that INEC officials deliberately manipulated the machines to rig the elections. Secondly is the role of the military in electoral processes. APC was loud on this in the last elections, alleging that PDP leveraged on its control of the military to use the officers and men so deployed to rig the elections; the Ekiti state election that returned Gov. Ayodele Fayose into power was particularly cited on this score.
Now, the tables have turned and APC is in charge. Will it also take full advantage of the institutions and processes it had accused the PDP of taking or will it reform the system and block all the loopholes it had cried about while in the opposition? Taking such undue advantage may be tempting and beneficial in the short-run but will be ruinous in the long-run as it would portray APC as a hypocritical party not sincere with its advocacy for credible polls. The coming elections in Kogi (November 21) and Bayelsa (December 5), both of which are PDP states, will help to show the APC\Buhari’s true colour concerning credible polls.
BOLAWOLE, FORMER EDITOR OF THE PUNCH, IS A MEDIA SPECIALIST AND PUBLISHER BASED IN LAGOS.